Budget woes plague Philadelphia's school system

(CBS News) PHILADELPHIA - It is a new school year, but in many districts around the country, it's the same old problem: not enough money. In Philadelphia, public schools opened this week based on just a promise of $50 million from the city -- money that the city still doesn't have.

Few were sure Philadelphia's school year would begin on time -- including the superintendent, William Hite.

William Hite is a Philadelphia schools superintendent who had to face budget cuts. CBS News

Twenty-four schools were closed and more than 4,000 employees were laid off. The city pledge of $50 million last month allowed a thousand employees to come back, just enough to open the doors this week.

"We had cut all assistant principals, all guidance counselors, all art, all music, all sports, all secretaries," he said.

Philadelphia's school crisis has been building for years. Debt and pension obligations piled up as students moved out to charter schools or the suburbs. Federal budget cuts have cost the city $130 million in aid.

It's a familiar pattern in the country's biggest school districts over the last 18 months: Chicago laid off 3,000 teachers and closed 49 schools. In Cleveland, 500 teachers and staff lost their jobs in 2012. And in Los Angeles, 4,000 teachers and staff were unemployed.

Constitution High School in Philadelphia lost a quarter of its staff, including its full-time guidance counselor. It now shares a counselor with seven other schools.

Miranda Thompson, a school counselor, is concerned about how the budget cuts will impact the students. CBS News

"I am terrified that we're going to lose children because of these cuts," said Miranda Thompson, who has been teaching in Philadelphia for 15 years. "We've always had a counselor; we've always had point people; we've always had a school nurse who if we had a suspicion, we would go to them first and they knew the proper channels to go through. So what if I lose a kid because I didn't know how to do something?"

Senior Abbey Pearlman said the cuts send a terrible message. "Like I am not important to society at all," she said, "like the people that are making these decisions have already gotten their education. And that's not very fair to me because I still need mine."

There is more pain to come. The school district is now asking teachers to take up to a 13 percent pay cut and forgo any raises until 2017.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.